PASADENA, CA — The City Council agreed Monday to spend about $120,000 a year to implement an anti-corruption measure that it spent the last four years, and close to $200,000, trying to overturn in court.
Calling the Taxpayer Protection Amendment known locally as Measure B an onerous law, the council voted to hire a full-time analyst to track all the potential conflicts associated with the measure at a cost of just over $100,000 in salary and benefits.
When questioned about the price tag, City Manager Cynthia Kurtz said the person will be performing “high level” research on all contracts and land-use deals approved by the city.
Additionally, the council allocated $20,000 for an outside contractor to review proposed subdivisions of real property, something currently performed by a committee of city staffers.
Council members made no secret of their disdain for Measure B, referring to it alternately as “flawed,” “silly,” and “really dumb.”
Councilman Steve Madison even tacked a disclaimer to the end of the debate: “We didn’t have any choice,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to think I thought this was good public policy.”
At first glance, the council’s decision appeared to be a dramatic reversal of fortune for Measure B, which had been stalled in court battles ever since Pasadena voters approved it in March 2001.
But the measure’s backers immediately cried foul. Of particular concern is a provision buried within the council resolution that requires the city to indemnify public officials caught violating the measure.
“It is a misuse of public funds. No city has the right to pay the criminal fees of a politician,” said Carmen Balber, a consumer advocate with the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, the group that wrote the initiative.
Balber also questioned why the city was spending so much money to track the measure.
“We have tracked the award of public benefits and it hasn’t taken a full-time staff person, that’s for certain,” Balber said. The entire discussion had a “woe-is-me” tone, she added.
Councilman Victor Gordo defended the expenditure, saying it is needed to comply with a ballot initiative city officials never thought necessary in the first place.
“This was imposed on us,” Gordo said. “We have a responsibility to ensure the will of the voters is carried out in a responsible and professional manner.”
Measure B prohibits city leaders from taking gifts, campaign contributions or jobs from any entity that receives a benefit of $25,000 or more from the city. The restrictions apply to any council member, commissioner or administrator who approves the benefit.
From the start, Pasadena officials tried to have the measure declared unconstitutional, arguing it unfairly restricts their First Amendment rights.
In May, the California Supreme Court ended the city’s challenges on procedural grounds. As a result, the council decided to implement the measure and wait for a formal complaint before testing the measure on its merits.
Madison proposed that the council sponsor a replacement measure on the June 2006 ballot, an idea that appeared to have his colleague’s support. The council will form a task force to begin drafting language.
Gary Scott can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4458, or by e-mail at [email protected]